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The Mugabeization of Britain

Many have condemned the ghastly Robert Mugabe for the outrageous policy of seizing land from white people in Zimbabwe. Yet even in Britain it is now possible for a group of people to use the political process to take the property of others against their will.

In what it nothing less that state sanctioned robbery, people on the Scottish Western Isles will be voting to take the property of long standing owners with no more justification that than they want to benefit from it and the state says they can use the force of law to do so. This is nothing less that mob rule of the grossest sort motivated by straightforward greed, abetted by politicians who see their political power benefiting from presiding over legalised land invasions.

A local woman is quoted as saying:

Now we have the democratic process in place to allow people to take control of their own destiny

… by which she really means “take control of other people’s destiny” by taking away their property. But she is certainly correct that this is democracy in action, which is why I am so ambivalent about unconstrained democratic politics. Robbery is no more excusable just because the people who benefit from it do so using the force of the state rather than just running the legitimate owners out of town with pitchforks.

Remember this the next time you hear some hypocritical Labour or LibDem politico wringing their hands about the behaviour of Robert Mugabe as he dispossesses farmers who have worked lands for several generations. Disgraceful.

33 comments to The Mugabeization of Britain

  • This happens int he US as well, under the doctrine of eminent domain. They will seize people’s property in order to resell it to a land developer or large corporation, with nothing but the prospect of an increase in property tax revenue as justification.

    The US Supreme Court heard oral argument on an eminent domain case this week. It is an excellent opportunity to strike down government sanctioned land-grabbing; unfortunately it looks like the SC is leaning the other way.

  • Thomas J. Jackson

    If the Supreme Court sanctions the seizure of private property by government to enrich other private parties the US needs to re-examine its court system and its personnel. I think a meeting is needed at the nearest oak tree.

  • Steve Lassey

    Yes, something should be done about the philosophical composition of the judiciary, and soon, before we wind up with Hillary as the president. Heaven only knows what the Supreme Court will look like if the deadlock continues for another four years. I don’t know why we got so excited about electing republicans if the results are the same. I’m sure everybody has gotten tired of being reminded that liberals bypass the messy process of persuading voters by appointing judges who have their ideological bent and no compunctions about enforcing it.

    On a side note, the Drudge Report has linked to an article quoting your Prince Charles with his complaint that the British public aren’t offering him much compassion, and that he doesn’t like to be “told what to do”. Could I get Samizdata to address that story please?

    I apologize if I’m out of line for suggesting this, being a foreigner and all, but it’s not like he has a regular job to do in order to earn his income. If he had to work 8 – 5 like the rest of us to justify his money he would certainly be told what to do most of every day. You get used to it after a while. If I read this right his position requires that he be responsible to the British people, within bounds of civility. For the prince to be able to drag people off the street and have them shot is more characteristic of the totalitarian dicatorships than of the British-American Common Law (thank you very much).

    That being said, it strikes me that this Camilla is a woman of rare courage to want to stick her head into that ravening wolfs’ den of press coverage. Let them get married, but if they want privacy they could always follow precedent and abdicate. Can’t have it both ways, you know. It’d be a hoot to see him trying to get a job as a truck driver or carpenter.

  • It is easy to blame the judiciary, and they are far from the blameless. But keep in mind that the Supreme Court decides issues based on the state of the law. If the SC decides in favor of the state, every legislator in the US bears as much responsibility for that decision as the 9 justices. Every state legislator could pass legislation prohibiting this sort of conduct, every member of congress and the senate could do the same, or they could amend the constitution. They are hesitant to do so because it would mean pissing off their constituary. That seems worse than the SC doing their best to interpret the law. The legislators are responsible for the legal ambiguity.

  • Last I heard, Mugabe didn’t pay farmers the market rate (or indeed, anything) for the land he took. A rather crucial difference, yesno?

  • Peter William North

    For the prince to be able to drag people off the street and have them shot is more characteristic of the totalitarian dicatorships than of the British-American Common Law

    Mugabe didn’t pay farmers the market rate

    Some years ago a Quango that the Prince ran sent my 80 year old mother a letter designating her home a “listed building”. There was no compensation, but the ominous phrase …

    many owners consider listing an honour. Should you not agree, please note that HMG will pursue you and your heirs, even should they flee abroad, to recover the cost of the obligations this letter outlines.

    I am now in hiding in Virginia, my bother is in Georgia … not even Mugabe pursues his victims abroad after taking their property.

  • It’s not just Lib Dem and Labour MPs that are guilty of this. It was John Major, I think who came up with promises of ‘leasehold reform’. I favour Right to Buy when it comes to government bodies like councils or government proxies like housing associations. With genuine private freehold/leasehold arrangements it is different. When the government starts unravelling the law of contract, nobody knows where they stand. As well as being wrong in principle there will be a disincentive to private freeholders maintaining the structure of buildings when the leaseholders have been given the legal privilege to take it off them.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ben Jarrell is absolutely correct, and I am glad he mentioned the eminent domain case now at the Supreme Court. It is a joke that for purely commercial reasons, private property owners can be evicted. The process encourages corruption and needs to be halted in its tracks.

  • Julian Taylor

    but it’s not like he has a regular job to do

    Well actually the Prince of Wales does have a regular job, in addition to his duties as Duke of Cornwall and standing in for the Queen when she is abroad. Whether one likes it or not (in this current government’s case that would be the latter) the Royal Family do sterling work for overseas trade for the UK as well as tireless work for people and industry in the UK – and hard work it can be as well.

    As for Mugabe “paying” anyone off for stealing their land the answer is … no. 841 farms were confiscated by Vincent Kwenda, Zimbabwe’s “director of land acquisition”. 118 farm owners who did not contest the confiscation were offered a collective compensation of $14m, not by Zimbabwe but by countries such as Sweden and Norway digging into their overseas aid budget. As one would expect from Mugabe none of the money was ever paid to those farmers, but presumably went on one of Grace Mugabe’s infamous Paris shopping trips – she is reputed to have once managed to fill a Zimbabwean Airlines jet with shopping, a feat that even Imelda Marcos would be proud of.

    By the way, is this [link] the same thing?

  • Verity

    Steve Lassey – I’m with Julian Taylor. The P of W has more than a regular job. And he’s had it from birth. I do not like this particular P of W, but he does work for more hours in the day than do most of us.

    His P of W trust has funded (I hate that word) almost 500,000 small business for young people (I hate that phrase) who had an idea and a business plan. Charles uses his position to draw in funding and sits on endless committees to discuss its deployment. He doesn’t need to do this. But almost half a million people have had a chance to make their business idea come true due to him. He’s also self-supporting through the Duchy of Cornwall. In other words, he’s not “funded” by the British taxpayer.

    And then there’s all his other duties that go on day after day, year after year.

    That said, I just don’t like him. I would want Charles to abdicate, when he becomes king, because he has no right to be married to the person who broke up his marriage (before it even started), but William is just too Dianesque and already way passé.

    Princess Anne should inherit the throne. She’s brave (what has Charles ever done but whimper?) and realistic and has never made a public issue of herself. She would be a strong, realistic head of state. It cannot happen, but that’s too bad.

  • Julian Taylor

    Or maybe let William inherit directly. There’s precedent for that and bear in mind that William is more English than the rest of the Royal Family put together. From all accounts it does look as though Charles would much rather prefer to retire to Highgrove and look after his Prince’s Trust than ever have to become King.

  • Andrew Duffin

    John b – how can there be a market rate when there is no willing seller? The rate is settled arbitrarily by the State.

    Assuming from your tone that you support what’s happening, I’d be interested to read how you would defend it.

    Perry is right, it is just robbery, nothing more.

  • The money the Government pays you as “compensation” is not a payment for the property it takes; it is a bribe to pretend that what is happening is not theft.

  • In principle, this is little different from planning laws that require a developer to build one flat for “key workers” for every two private flats, as a condition of planning permission. But it is certainly a particularly brazen example of State interference with property rights.

    There is a lesson for minarchists here. Do not think that the State can even be trusted to perform its supposed core functions of protecting property rights.

  • Steve

    Isn’t this all basically a hangover from the Highland Clearances though? What of the rights of those who were forcefully dispossessed of their way of lives by the state?

    The ‘rights’ of those who came by their land by royal favour and/or by the action of the state in the first place can hardly be called legitimate.

  • Euan Gray

    how can there be a market rate when there is no willing seller? The rate is settled arbitrarily by the State

    Actually, if you take the trouble to read the legislation … but what am I saying, nobody ever feels the need to do this before commenting.

    Anyway, if you did do that, you would see that the price is to be the market price that the land would have been expected to sell for had the owner put it up for sale voluntarily, with specially valuable features such as mineral deposits, salmon fishings, etc., valued separately.

    Furthermore, this value is not “settled arbitrarily by the state,” but by an independent valuer. In much the same way as happens when you want a mortgage on a house, in fact. The state compels sale (or cancels the right to buy, read the law & see) only in specific circumstances.

    That said, the law is bad as a general principle. There are cases where the principle could be usefully applied, I am sure, but as should be well enough known hard cases make bad law.


  • Verity

    Steve – Yes. It all derives from the clearances, so screw them.

  • dearieme

    Since the clearances involved clearing, the descendants of the cleared necessarily live elsewhere: the Lowlands, England, USA, Canada, Australia, etc. Moreover, since what was lost was tenancies, even if you “restored” the land to the descendants of the cleared, you should be restoring leases, not ownership, which would require you to throw out the present tenants. All balls: it’s theft from those with few votes, in hopes of gaining the votes of the newly enriched and the foolish and ignorant people who support the policy.

  • steve a

    “It’s theft from those with few votes”

    What makes you so sure that they own it though?
    Deeds or equivalent? That’s only proof that at some previous time someone with a big enough stick said someone could have it – and now someone else with a big stick says someone else can have it.

    Perhaps before a more libertarian society could be created these basic issues of just ownership and how the current distribution of property ownership came about need to be addressed.

  • Julian Morrison

    Euan Gray: independent valuer or not, that’s still not the market price. The real market price is “it’s not for sale”. The price is being forcibly lowered.

  • Euan Gray

    The price is being forcibly lowered

    It is true that landowners may be compelled to sell against their will, but they are not going to get less than the market value of the land, so it isn’t exactly being forcibly lowered. Also, the buyers do have to find the money to actually buy. The sale is forcible, but the price is not forcibly lowered. There is a difference.

    I agree it is bad law, but (as usual) it is not quite as bad as the inevitable Samizdata knee-jerk reaction. The law of land ownership in Scotland, incidentally, is different from that in England or America since it is based on Roman rather than common law, with a hefty dose of feudalism to confuse matters.

    As has been commented, it is not as if this is new. Much Scottish land did indeed transfer ownership at the point of a gun, sword or big stick. Since Scots are really good at envy, whining and recalling (long) past injustice, it is unsurprising that something like this would eventually happen in the People’s Republic. Doubtless the philosophical justification is that land lying idle is wasted – however right or wrong this is, I suspect you will see more of this in other places as population pressure grows.

    I repeat my suggestion that people read what the law (Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003) actually says. It is not quite the state seizure of all land that some appear to think it is.


  • Julian Morrison

    Euan Gray, my point is that when you talk about “market value”, you’re inappropriately applying a collective average to an individual decision. The nominal market price is a measured average of real prices. The actual (as versus theoretically average) market price of any trade is whatever the parties voluntarily agree. And if they can’t reach agreement, the market price is no sale.

  • Euan Gray

    The nominal market price is a measured average of real prices. The actual (as versus theoretically average) market price of any trade is whatever the parties voluntarily agree

    The term “market price” in normal discourse refers to the former only. The selling price is not the “actual market price,” it is just the selling price and is not necessarily related to the value the market would put on whatever it is being sold.


  • dearieme

    Steve: yes, deeds or equivalent. All land in Scotland has been owned in conventional ways for centuries. Any stuff about “it belonged to clan X, Y, Z, not the Countess of Sutherland” is just sentimental, unhistorical tosh. I dare say that some of my ancestors were cleared, so if you want to throw off the current tenants and offer me a tenancy at an eighteenth or nineteenth century rent, good-oh. But you would still be stealing the land from the landowner. Come to that, the land on which your home stands was once doubtless farmed by a tenant: do you fancy being thrown out to make way for the descendants of the last farming tenant? As I say, all balls.

  • Euan Gray

    Any stuff about “it belonged to clan X, Y, Z, not the Countess of Sutherland” is just sentimental, unhistorical tosh

    It may be sentimental and hopelessly impractical, but it is not necessarily unhistorical.


  • dearieme

    Euan: can you point me to a source demonstrating that any 18th or 19th century clearance took place from land that was not owned in the conventional Scottish way? Come to that, were the clearances different in any essential way from earlier clearances in the Lowlands or in England, when shepherds replaced ploughmen?

  • Euan Gray


    I wasn’t talking specifically about the clearances, which were indeed similar to the various enclosures made in England in the 16th/17th centuries.

    However, until Scotland adopted the feudal system, land was indeed owned by the local tribes (or clans as they insist on calling them). Feudal law says all land belongs to the king. In turn the kings granted land to various loyal sycophants ^W servants. Although it appears that in general this was not done forcibly or especially unfairly, it is nevertheless the case that it IS historically accurate to say that land that once belong to the tribe now belongs to the Duke of Wherever, and that such transfer was only possible as a result of state fiat (the change to feudal law, about which I suppose the tribes were not consulted to any great extent beyond “agreeing” that the king now controlled the lot).

    So, no, it isn’t really “unhistorical.” Sentimental rubbish, of course, but that’s a traditional Scottish industry.


  • dearieme

    “until Scotland adopted the feudal system, land was indeed owned by the local tribes (or clans as they insist on calling them).” In which case it was surprisingly unlike Ireland, where it would seem that land was effectively owned by aristocratic families and was then tenanted by various commoners, at the whim of the rulers, many of those commoners being slaves i.e. without even the rights of serfs under feudal law. Heroic societies were very unlike shortbread-tin representations, I suspect. Be that as it may, Scotland had left that sort of society behind centuries before the clearances.

  • rsole

    It may well be the case that the land was pinched somehow from the original occupants. Almost a certainty.

    What interests me is the public money being made available for these lucky democrats to purchase the land. I wish someone would give me a grant to buy my house !

  • Euan Gray

    In which case it was surprisingly unlike Ireland

    Well, it’s a different country, isn’t it? There’s water and stuff between them, you know. Just because they are both Celtic fringes of the British Isles doesn’t mean they share everything else in common.

    What interests me is the public money being made available for these lucky democrats to purchase the land

    They only do it on the back of public money in this case because the taxpayer is funding the construction of wind turbines. The Act does not say that anyone is entitled to public money to make such a purchase, and normally they would not get this. It is very likely that this particular application is made simply because of the wind turbines. If permission for building them is declined, perhaps the sale will fall through?


  • An question from an outsider: are some of you here saying that the fact that previous non-democratic government forcibly transfered this land from some people to others, gives this democratic government the right to do the same?

  • Andrew Duffin

    Euan, they DO usually get public money to do this. Gigha is another case in point, although there the sale was at least voluntary and agreed by the current owners, who were quite happy about it.

    Nevertheless, taxpayers funds were used, and if they’re ever paid back it will be with the proceeds of the subsidised windfarm just opened there, said subsidy being provided, of course, by you and me.

    Whichever way you look at it, it’s a scam and a disgrace.

  • dearieme

    Euan “Well, it’s a different country, isn’t it? There’s water and stuff between them, you know.” But you were, I thought, referring to a time so long ago that the West Highlands and Islands were Irish; Dalriada and all that. Anyway, enough: either you can cite historical evidence that “clans” owned Scottish land, or I’ll continue to believe that it’s all fairy stories for the bairns.